Shifting the goalposts is a well-worn platitude that could be applied to the new Volkswagen Golf, but it would be wrong.
Before the German brand’s PR department can get up off the floor, let me explain — VW hasn’t moved the goalposts, it’s carved out a whole new playing field that it seems likely to have to itself until early next year when the new Mazda3 arrives.
We’re in the 90TSI Comfortline, which is priced from $24,990 — the step up from the base model is $3500 but that adds alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, a centre rear armrest, automatic headlights, an auto-dimming centre mirror, lumbar adjustment for front seats, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors with visual warning, a reversing camera (with a sharp, clear picture helped by concealment beneath the rear VW badge when not in use) to the standard features list.
The base-model 90TSI already has a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio, cruise and phone controls, an 8-speaker touchscreen infotainment system, trip computer, electric park brake with auto-hold function, stop-start and low tyre pressure warning system.
Also standard is cruise control, Bluetooth and USB inputs,daytime running lights, power windows, split-fold rear seats and reach’n’rake steering adjustment.
There’s nothing entry-level about the little 90TSI model — tipping the scales in manual guise at just over 1200kg, the alloy 1.4-litre direct-injection turbo four with a variable intake camshaft delivers 90kW and 200Nm to the front wheels in useful fashion.
It’s not going to cannibalise sales from the GTI, but it is spirited and enthusiastic, without being greedy — stop-start and lithe kerb weight help it drink 95RON PULP at a reasonable rate.
Officially sipping fuel at a rate of 5.7 litres per 100km (0.3 thirstier than the 7-spd DSG) our time in the German tyke returned 7.3L/100km despite some press-ahead motoring.
Don’t look for cutting edge “out-there” design elements —VW doesn’t do curves often, but it has tailored the cut of the Golf 7.
The new exterior is smoother through the air, which has contributed — along with lighter-weight, stronger bodyshell and an insulated windscreen — to the refined and quiet cabin.
The interior benefits from the extra length between the wheels, offering useful cabin space front and rear; cargo space is up by 30 to 380 litres, or when using the split-fold rear seat the capacity rises to 1270 litres.
A full quota of stars from ANCAP adorns the Golf’s scorecard, with seven airbags — the standard six plus a driver’s knee bag — within the high-strength steel bodyshell.
The mainstream Golf range now gets the electronic diff lock system originally reserved for GTI models, countering understeer as well as reigning in wheel spin from the front-drive hatch.
There’s also the fatigue detection system, which VW says monitors driver concentration (based on driver behaviour at the start of a drive) and warns if it appears to be wavering.
I could have been forgiven for thinking the stop-start system had already kicked in, but it hadn’t — that was the first clue to the new Golf’s refined nature.
The good first impression continued as the initial journey got underway, with the little VW in its least-powerful form spun its crankshaft smoothly to whip through the traffic, stirred up by the six-speed manual.
Apart from the dead feel to the high clutch uptake point,the manual drivetrain was easy to use, making good use of the lowest outputs of any model within the new Golf range.
The ride quality defies its German heritage and deals well with rutted roads, without ignoring body control in the bends — steering and gearshift are both light and benign, if you want more meat in the tiller then ante up for the GTI.
Cabin comfort is good to, despite the relatively conservative look to the seat cushions, with head and legroom front and rear more than useful given the small-car dimensions.
Cargo space is also good, without being class-leading, but enough to cope with most metropolitan — or should that be metrosexual — duties.
Styling isn’t going to turn heads by way of luscious curves or flanks, but the fact that it is the new Golf and much-heralded thus far, it garners some interest. It’s not perfect, however, as the USB input won’t talk to an iPhone 5 through it’s cable, but thankfully there’s Bluetooth audio and phone link, so crisis averted.
A game-changer, no doubt, worthy of the plaudits it is receiving. The lingering doubts over a DSG might see more people trying out the three-pedal manual models, but regardless they will be smitten with the solid, refined and quiet hatchback.
NVolkswagen Golf 90TSI Comfortline
Price: from $24,990
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: six years or 90,000km (whichever comes first), $2112.
Resale: 56% (Glass’s Guide)
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars (ANCAP)
Engine: 1.4-litre turbo 4-cyl, 90kW/200Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual; FWD
Thirst: 5.7 1/100km, tank 50 litres; 133g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.3m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.5m (h)
Spare: space saver.
Price: from $20,330
Engine: 2.0L four-cylinder petrol, 108kW/182Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 7.9L/100km, 187g/km CO2
Price: from $19,990
Engine: 1.8L four-cylinder petrol, 103kW/173Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 7.1L/100km, 166g/km CO2
Price: from $22,290
Engine: 2.0L four-cylinder petrol, 125kW/202Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 6.6L/100km, 154g/km CO2